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THE ALCHEMIST'S SHELL GAME

A WARNING

If you are reading this and are not a sworn member of the Goldhawk Company, its administration adamantly requests that you do not read beyond this page. We understand that our literature tends to travel, sometimes becoming mislaid. But the contents of this manual are not for public consumption.

 

Please return this book to its owners:

 

The Goldhawk Company

The Alchemist’s Laboratory

Outskirts of the Blue Dwarvish city of Ntxim Nyog’vaj

The rainy side of Cov’tiag

 

Should you return this manual faithfully, unread, and in person, you will be rewarded three hundred gold pieces of your preferred denomination, provided that it is recognized by one of the eighty-nine palatinates extant circa this publication on fifth of Grim in the Year of Slide.

 

If you are unable to deliver this manual as instructed, please burn it.

 

Note that the Goldhawk Company is not morally responsible for the cruelty or ill fates suffered by those who fail to heed these instructions. It suffices to say that our literature tends to get nebby priers who don’t heed warnings into trouble.

Introduction

This book is designed to give you instruction in dealing with any obstacles commonplace to our pursuits. You are to guard it with your life. If you lose it, you are to get it back. If you fail to get it back, you are to enlist aid and try again. If the book is lost, so too are your shares in the Company. We will have no other choice but to enact every possible measure in the pursuit of any lost manual’s retrieval. Such work is costly. Do not allow this book to leave your person.

 

Good greetings, Goldhawk. Welcome to the Company.

 

Our order boasts gnomes of myriad professions. Among our ranks are thieves, scientists, magicians, sowers, gamblers, clergy, confidence tricksters, fools and tumblers, magisters, executioners, miners, gamesmen, swindlers, and mercenary adventurers. No matter how you came to us, you can be assured that your fellow Goldhawks will not deviate from the instructions outlined in the following tract. As such, constantly at your back are an uncounted number of rogues who are sworn to the service of this Company.

 

In addition to the anthropoid resources at your disposal are a vasty wealth of resources pecuniary and material. Upon being presented with this tract, you should have also been kitted with:

 

  1. The standard effects of a seasoned adventurer (weapons, survival gear, playing cards, etc.)

  2. An official Goldhawk uniform

  3. A mass of gold ore equivalent to five hundred gold pieces in the local currency

 

Assuming you have not yet lost any of these in a careless bet, consider them yours to ply or dispense with however you see fit, provided that their use is in service of the tasks outlined in the following manual. Requests for additional materials will be filled in the order in which they are received and will be accommodated only if the indicated materials are deemed essential.[1]

 

By printing necessity, this manual includes instructions for all members of our order. Some of the information in this book is NOT FOR YOU. Upon your receipt of this manual, there was a bookmark of proprietary design fitted between this and the previous page. Your supervisor will have instructed you to open the book to this mark to begin onboarding.

 

Always keep to your place. Use your bookmark. Advance only to the pages indicated at the end of each reading. The earwigging of privileged, confidential information outside of the purview of your rank is punishable by complete forfeiture of shares in the Company. The truth of the matter will be known to your superiors.

 

I further recommend that you:

 

  1. Memorize your place when setting the book aside. Perhaps keep a separate journal of your progress.

  2. Familiarize yourself with a good local tanner or booksmith upon visiting a new locale, in the event that you lose your bookmark and require a replacement.[2]

 

Should you advance in our ranks or be given an additional task, you will be provided with supplemental material and/or instructed to turn your attention to pages in this book previously forbidden to you.

 

My confidence that you will excel at every task prescribed to you in these pages is utter and complete. You would not have found yourself a member of our Company unless you were possessed of the singular gifts required of one in your role. So I will not wish you good luck, only a god’s speed in carrying out your quest. Should you require help, you know where to find me.

 

Expectantly,

The Alchemist

 

[1] See Supply Requisition Form on page 1,332

[2] I can personally attest that the following shops and merchants offer quality bookmarks at modest prices:

  • Rare Books, Town One of The Modest Marsh

  • The general in Bxad’s Mills

  • Red and Yellow Leathers, Tannistown

  • Dyxl’s Beefs and Related Outerparts, Ntxim Nyog’vaj

  • The ox-driven merchant caravans of the Southern Gulf

  • Novel Ideas, Gelaunt

The Fool's Manual

Thirty-second of Grim

The Year of Plague's Return

In centuries past, the forgehall of Ntxim Nyog’vaj was filled with the exasperated sighs of bellows, the burbling of molten steel, and the incessant, cacophonous first cries of one hundred blades born every minute. But in your time, a single hammer will ring from the great vaulted chamber. The passion and cadence of the hammer’s pounding will be the only timepiece the blue dwarves bother to use. If you listen closely, you’re able to tell the precise hour, to the minute, by the enthusiasm and speed with which the lone weaponsmith applies his considerable stamina to the anvil. The lackadaisical pause of the smith’s hammering—a moment to wipe the waxy perspiration from his coal-stained face—will tell you that the day is nearly at an end.

 

So much the better, you’ll find yourself thinking. While your laboratory is miles from the forgehall, at the crumbled edge of the once vast dwarven city[1], it is close enough that you can hear the clanging. (And it won’t be uncommon for the occasional nosy novitiate of the Church of Txyu to come along, investigating rumors of the wizened gnome who bought herself a place in their new-claimed kingdom.) After the market has closed, in the short but stalwart, dim-lit dwarven night, you’ll be less likely to be disturbed—and you’ll especially wish to go undisturbed on this night. You’re expecting a distinguished guest.

 

Take your time, then, strolling your wine racks. Since you’ve followed instructions, there will be seven-score bottles to choose from, occupying four long aisles in the southern end of your lowest cellar[2]. And since you’ve followed instructions, your palette will have more than a lifetime of training. This is the requisite length of study when serving as sommelier for a god.

 

Glend Galmir’s tastes will tend toward the eccentric, but should be similar to your own in this regard. Find something with a grub-forward flavor, hints of nutmeg and hart’s tongue. And, of course, it must taste expensive[3]. They won’t be overpleased at your summoning them here. You’re likely interrupting the zenith of some revelry, though to mortal eyes it might appear to be the nadir of some cruel mischief. The promise of a sumptuous feast and a cask’s-worth of wine should somewhat ameliorate their impatience to return to their antics.

 

Begin decanting the wine before the wholly familiar knock disturbs the dry cellar silence. The Miner who descends the stairs will carry a shortsword and a poorly-strung bow, and will be unusually wary of a strike from behind. Be further warned that he carries a jagged dagger concealed in his left boot. The best approach with this one will be spectacle. He’ll eye the bottle of wine, the two tankards. Tell him that after he deposits his haul, this is to be shared between you, a reward for his labor. Take your time unlocking the vault door[4], admonishing him if he appears too curious about its devices. Open it slowly, with a flourish.

 

You’ll be tempted to strike him down after he walks four paces into the vault. His back will be turned to you and he’ll seem completely transfixed by the sight before him; the auric glow of your impossible hoard will create within him a resonance so profound that he would likely not even notice the blow. But wait until he approaches the sluice table. Twist the taps and demonstrate its primary function for him. Direct him to place his treasure in the bed and guide his hands to the work of polishing. It will be a more difficult fight, but you’ll prevail, and if the water is already running there will be less mess to clean up before your guest arrives.

 

The dwarvish peasants’ tankards—crude, barely-tapered cylinders of iron—will insult the complexity of the vintage, but their dull exteriors will suit your purposes in a way that polished crystal would not. These are the cups you’ll have practiced with so diligently. Your fingertips will know every inchfifth of their smooth surfaces. Tell Glend Galmir that these are the only cups you have.

 

They are a naturally curious one. Wait until they sit. Allow them to dazzle you with their witticisms. Listen, laughing when appropriate. When they pause to enjoy the wine, remove this book in a casual manner from its glass case and place it with significant precision on the credenza. Ask them how the wine is.

Say their response along with them in perfect tandem as you remove the lid from the ice-bathed tureen before you on the credenza, “It would be better with some frozen frogs’ legs.” That should get their attention.

They’ll want to ask about the book, but they won’t. Instead they’ll ask why you’ve summoned them here.

 

As you’ll have been quick in your final banquet preparations, The Miner’s corpse will still be lying flat on the bed of the sluice table. This won’t unduly bother Glend Galmir, however. They’ll be more interested in your collection, smirtling puckishly at the pleasure you’re obviously taking in the display.

 

Tell them the precise quantity and weight of the collection entire. Do not round. Run your finger along the pocked edges of each gleaming brick and gobbet on the way to the modest mint in the rear of the vault. Take one coin[5] and bring it back to the table, along with three more dwarvish tankards from the bar cart.

 

You need not bother to invite them to the game; play is their attribute.

I want this to be clear: you are not to shark Glend Galmir. Though you’re practiced in manipulation, Glend Galmir is unsharkable. They may win or lose each game; play fair.

 

After you’ve jumbled the tankards, ask Glend Galmir if they care to gamble. The question is rhetorical, but it is important to follow tradition and form. Express pleasure in their willingness. It does not matter how many games you play with Glend Galmir before you offer them your wager. The game on which the bet is made is the one that you will win.

“Guess which goblet the coin is under correctly, and all of the gold in that vault is yours. Guess wrong, and all I ask is that you help me with a little prank I’ve planned,” you say with a smile, tapping your long fingers twice on this book’s surface.

 

Or perhaps not. Perhaps you are not the intended recipient of this diktat. Will there be some glimmer of recognition on Glend Galmir’s face? Will it seem as though they know you too well—perhaps better, even, than you know yourself—that they’ve been here before? How many times? Maybe one has already come before you, who followed these instructions but imperfectly, not to the letter. Maybe one will come after. All I can tell you for certain is that if you are The Alchemist, this will all come to pass exactly as I’ve said. If not, it would be in your best interest to leave this book where you found it, and to draw any steel you have on you. She might even now be behind you, dagger raised at the nape of your neck, ready to drag you back into her vaults.

 

[1] On the shelf to your right are plans and an old gazetteer of the city that were given to me by a friend. See the circled area on page 684 for ideal location when constructing your laboratory. A crew will need to have been hired for the excavation.

[2] See blueprints.

[3] Needless to say this potation must be of gnomish origin. A terroir such as the Cricket Valley of Lower Huyethet would be appropriate.

[4] You’ll have sought out Frárn of house No’er for assistance with the vault’s construction. The combination on the door is a dwarvish cipher. Only a gnome with a knowledge of the secret dwarven tongue and an affinity for the tales of the Old Religion will be able to guess the answer to its riddle. Learn these tales well.

[5] I’ll spare you the decades of experimentation and tell you which. While you should mint a variety of currencies for the purposes of acquiring the many goods and services that will be necessary for your endeavors, a Siren’s Gambit—which will be your natural talent—is best played with a Ryō from the Mermish colonies of the Southern Gulf.

CONTACT

 

cantabmag@gmail.com

 

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